About Me

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Christine Ama is a freelance fashion, arts and culture writer. She has contributed numerous articles to ADONE Magazine and SheDoesTheCity.com and worked for several years as a product copywriter for the Hudson's Bay Company. With a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and an intensive Fashion Merchandising program under her belt, Ama is passionate about marrying her love for creative culture with the written word. In the past, she pursued music as a self-produced electro pop singer/songwriter called Christer (rhymes with "shyster" ;) releasing a full-length album, two music videos and touring internationally. After visiting over five countries in Europe, Ama temporarily relocated to Berlin, Germany where she worked and wrote for over a year. She currently resides in Toronto, Canada.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

**NOTE! Any photos with this character are courtesy of Michael Ho Photography.**

The bass from 213 Sterling Road seems to rattle the entire building. Even the entrance doors, dense as they are, tremble under the wrath of the DJ set rumbling from inside. Patrons are decked out, smoking, chirping and balancing on their most extreme pairs of heels. The crowd is a manifold of glamazons, kinksters, hipsters, avant gardes and try-hards. The whole atmosphere reminds me of my rave years in the late 90s. I have butterflies in my stomach, the same anxiety and anticipation I felt when approaching vibrating warehouses as a teenager. Tonight is my first evening at Fashion Art Toronto (better known as FAT) and having just arrived fresh off the plane from Vancouver, I have no idea what to expect.

There’s an intoxicating energy circulating through the 50-foot ceilings and the 15,000 square feet of space. Upon entry, I am charmed. My eyes adjust to the infrared lighting and I feel that I have truly arrived at something, something special and unique. Fashion Art Toronto is not your typical fashion week. This is not about commerce or mass marketability. The emphasis is on creativity, craft and conceptualism. Experimentation and expression. This is truly fashion as art, art as fashion and everything in between. This is the eighth installment of an annual alternative fashion festival that takes place every April. Over 200 designers, photographers, filmmakers and artists from across Canada and abroad have come to share their unconventional take on what we call clothes.

“I think ‘fat’ is a very ugly word in fashion” quotes executive director and founder Vanja Vasic. “FAT as a festival means we try to break the norm and we focus on diversity. For me, using that word ‘fat’ says we are open to different perspectives. Fashion doesn’t have to be exclusive.”

Inclusive is right. The front room features The Dressing Room Project, a series of interactive installations such as Maja Radanovic’s Teasing Chairs or Andrew Owen A01, who takes pictures of volunteers and then dissects them to create a “photo-cubic tableau.”

Perhaps most extraordinary is the distorted body modification of multi-media artist Alex Beriault. Her wearable sculpture is part of a collection entitled Paradigms of Liminality, exploring the codependent relationship between the body and technological objects. Treading through the crowd in a wooden apparatus that clamps behind her ankles, neck and forehead, the icy-eyed Beriault and her “Walking Machine” resemble some kind of somber ligneous insect.

I haven’t even had a drink yet. One glass of white wine later and I’m moving on to the main room which houses the 100-foot long runway. Discrete of Saavy Records pumps upbeat disco tech as audience members rally to take their seats. The pit of photographers is thick. The perimeters of the stage are lined with VIPS, fashion fanatics, designers and media from Flare, FAB, FAID, Auxiliary and Xtra Magazine.

I’m just in time to see the runway show for M. Sexton, a fascinating jewelry line that, among other things, features ornate decorative eye patches. Jagged shards of quartz spring from the sockets of Sexton’s new world pirates, while others fall fluidly in multiple strings of sparkle. Myles Sexton is a Toronto-based designer who, like me, was born and raised in Nova Scotia. This has already landed him a special place in my heart. 

Huge rhinestone triangle necklaces and spiky silver fist rings are sellable items that could amp up the simplest little black dress. Small chains fringe a man’s forehead, earlobe and septum, a subtle nod to South Asian influences. The models are styled accordingly. Meshy, shredded, barely-there tops, leather leggings and tight black boxers allow the jewelry to shine.

There are moments when the hair could be sleeker and the black lipstick is a tad too literal, but overall the presentation is solid, communicating themes of androgyny, asexuality and a punky eclecticism. The crowd cheers when Sexton, with his pale modelesque physique and blonde samurai ponytail, twirls for the big finish in microchain epaulettes and a signature eye patch.

I am officially in love with Chantelle Brown-Young, a model who walks for Sexton among many others over the course of the week. Her prettiness is undeniable, but most inspiring is her proud ownership of Vitiligo, a condition that causes mixed pigments in the skin. It takes a moment to process the pale white patches around her mouth, hips, knees and hands, but once you do, you are spellbound.

Many speak of Vitiligo as an undesirable condition that needs to be prevented, concealed and cured. Brown-Young turns that perception on its head, celebrating her complexion with confidence and poise, redefining beauty with every step she takes. Check out an inspirational video interview with Brown-Young HERE!

Designer Matiere Noire has an opening act in which models walk slowly onstage, stand next to black spinning wheels and pour bottles of sand onto small cone-like structures. What does it mean? No one knows. The conceptualism goes a bit too far. But the youthful, tailored and sophisticated vibe of the collection are right on point, which includes relaxed, oversized navy trousers and an intriguing white pleated “skort” hybrid.

Henry Navarro’s collection addresses racial segregation in Grey Cincinnati. The grey-blocked satin jumpers are visually innovative designs. Several of Navarro’s models enter with unsettling makeup treatments, a kind of reverse “blackface” that satirizes minstrel shows of the 19th Century. Slightly gimmicky, but the message is delivered and received. 

Mitra Ghavamian, an advocate for fashion innovation over industry, lets the garments do the talking with tongue-and-cheek interpretations of old world military and a statuesque "tutu" of sculpted foam.

The strongest presentations have a deep narrative. The menswear collection from L’uomo Strano (Italian for “the strange man”) demonstrates virtuosic construction from textile-based sculptor, Mic Carter. The opening music sizzles with the sound of soothing shakers and delicate synths. A tall, ghostlike figure emerges in a floor-length veil fastened to an orbicular white ball cap. This is Antifrantik, Mic Carter’s twin brother, who has composed an entire soundscape that, like the collection itself, explores themes of the “construction of manhood, particularly in metropolitan centres.” There is a soft sweetness to the opening number White Colours which welcomes us into a surreal world of ethereal toughness. The MC recites his lyrics and slowly moves to a glass chess table in the centre of the runway. He sits, still rhyming, and begins to play a game. 

The models stroll on stage and as they pass the ghoulish rapper, they move an opposing piece against him. The men look like they have stepped out of a time portal, peacocks from an alternate reality of centuries past. High collars, luxe feathers and strong silhouettes look feminine and dangerous. Antifrantik’s rhymes get heavier during Blacker Than and dancier during Strut So Fierce. We are engaged. There is a clear story here - an exploration of Hip Hop, urbanity, race, sexuality and gender. With the rising popularity of queer artists in black urban music, elements of the L’uomo Strano collection tip a weird hat to gay rapper Le1f or RnB singer Frank Ocean. The use of drama, scene and live performance convey a message about “the traumatic experience of subculture, particularly as it relates to queerness and its neo-masculinity.”

Mexican brand Malafacha offers voluminous, balloon-like garments and some highly wearable geometric screen prints.

Andy Hoan Nguyen of Y.D.N.A. makes casual street wear look as beautiful as a ball gown. In his latest collection, The Time Traveller, the vast list of materials, from leather, knits, clear vinyl and crushed velvet convert into a versatile wardrobe of refined leisure, largely thanks to comfortable cuts and timely colours. The plot is hopelessly romantic. Nguyen is inspired by “a walk in New York City; wishing to cross paths with the one you love, knowing that he is nearby.” 

Tenderness flutters in our hearts as the country ballad, “Might as Well Be Making Love” by Jessica Simpson croons overhead, a refreshing shift from the usual electronic runway anthems. But most memorable are the rice hats topped with heaps of glitter. As the models walk, flecks of silver flutter off their headgear leaving a faint shimmering haze in their wake. The models reach the end of the runway and spin around. Masses of sparkle fly from their heads causing a raincloud of splendor. A unanimous chorus of “oohs and aahs” chimes from the audience. Everyone is smiling.

Friday night and an after party ensues. Underground promoters Promise have brought in DJs Ali Black and Talal Zoi. Friends arrive and the next thing I know I’m euphoric and dancing to Jack by Breach, grinning at all the familiar faces I have grown accustomed to over the course of the week. Spirits are high and everyone is starting to feel like an old friend. I’m out ‘til dawn.

Saturday night and I am dragging my sorry ass to the last night of Fashion Arts Toronto. After the festivities from the night (morning) before, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. But I plough on, knowing there is more to see and that I won’t regret it.

At long last, colour is truly taking the stage tonight. The finale of the week is a celebration of high-energy optimism and theatrical wonder. Montreal designer Niapsou brings us cheerful blends of African print with a fresh take, particularly in menswear. These boys look different and in the best possible way.

Aeon Attire, a clothing line designed specifically for break dancers, introduces us to the clever “Aeon Taper” – an ankle strap in a myriad of patterns that can taper the cuff of any pant for ease of movement. Twin brothers Wei Dong and Weiming Yuan enter the runway looking slick and relaxed, but their positivity and openness are far from pretentious. The family-friendly version of Cee Lo Green’s “F(orget) You” blares from the speakers as the Asian brothers pull a spectator from the sidelines. The three boys break into a flash mob style dance sequence and quickly we understand that the “hesitant volunteer” is actually their best friend and business partner, Patrick Lum.

The fun keeps up with Typical Friday Night, a music duo and clothing line out of New York. Performers and designers Jet Phynx and Brawdway bless us with one of those rare runway shows where the models are free to let loose, have fun and express themselves. 

The models don’t strut - they jaunt, gesture, smile and dance, clad in a mish mash of fluorescent pattern, colour and cool, youthful urban wear. As the cast takes their final walk, laughing and waving to the crowd, the eye is aroused with neon rainbows of vests, tights, caps, and kicks. There is no wonder why TFN have coined the term “Popanese,” a combination of American pop culture and Japanese street style.

A film begins, simply titled Banquet, produced by Ideal Glass of New York, "inspired by Rococo era aesthetics of artificiality and overindulgence." Crude, clown-like figures eat a messy feast. We shift in our seats. The film ends and we have reached the final act of Fashion Art Toronto. An airy minor chord hums around us. The music swells, emotive, but soothing enough that I want to close my eyes and fall asleep. Then the costumes enter. A painted man appears in a patchwork ensemble of royal purples - a belly-exposing doublet, stuffed trunk hose and multiple strings of pearls. In one hand he holds a microphone and in the other a long unraveled scroll with dedicative prose for his series of “Ladies.” This is a live runway performance of The Purple Jester a collaborative showpiece between multimedia artist and designer Uta Bekaia and Ideal Glass. Inspired by medieval European art, Bekaia transforms historic design concepts using modern materials and practices.

The Purple Jester begins to introduce his entourage. Two skinny figures in crude beige bodysuits accompany “My Lady in Pink,” a cotton-candy-coated ballerina with a ruffled décolletage, side-swept blonde hair and exaggerated lips the size of Amanda Lapore’s. She slowly twinkles her toes down the runway, expressionless, fragile and chilling. The Jester recites reverent lines of poetry for her, running about the stage, gesturing to the rooftops and speaking in an intentionally histrionic cadence. The whole thing is amusingly bizarre, but clearly that’s the point. We are acclimatizing to the strangeness of this world that is unfolding before us and everyone seems to like it - love it for that matter.

“My Lady in Red” comes next, accompanied by another alarming creature – a supposed “woman” in polka dots with the head of a pig. The Red Lady is in full dress supported by petticoats, her bodice a blend of red and white Ikat and ox blood leather. She too wears a disturbing mask with a mean frown, a sheer red veil and a bloody kitchen knife in her left hand. The Jester continues his epic cantos.

“My Lady in Blue” appears with a spiky mohawk headdress and asymmetrical leg-of-mutton sleeves. But her young counterpart steals the show, a baby unicorn that looks like a love child between a Lost Boy and an Avatar. The youngster is impressively self-possessed, scarcely cracking a smile and trooping down the runway with what we can only assume to be its “mother.”

We hear an operatic voice ring over the music. The finale has arrived and so has “My Lady in White” – a striking, cloud-like figurine of tulle and song. Her angelic voice echoes up the elevated ceilings and makes my skin tighten with awe. She is an otherworldly creature that fills my heart with wonder, fear and hope. This is truly fashion as art, art as fashion and everything in between.

At this moment, I am overwhelmingly grateful to have had this experience - to be at FAT, to rub shoulders with a fearless and talented group of artists and to witness the culmination of an incredible creative force. For the first time since my arrival in Toronto, I feel that I am a part of something great, something outside of myself, but that I belong to nonetheless. I belong in this city - this city that I now call home.

Special Thanks to Vanja Vasic, Mic Carter and Michael Ho for their input and contributions.

1 comment:

  1. What a perfect blog post. Loved reading it!!! It was an amazing event.